Transnational corporations, employment practices and social responsability in Mexico

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Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Berlin (2010)


By Graciela Bensusán (UAM) and Jorge Carrillo (COLEF).
Diverse studies evaluating the results obtained from the defense of workers’ rights in a context of ongoing productive restructuring through various means and instruments—national and international, public and private, linking and non-linking—emphasize both their potentialities and limitations. In particular the implementation of Codes of Conduct in multinational corporations (MNCs), including those with a sectorial scope, as an alternative or complement to national regulations, has generated immense disappointment among specialists. Thus the debate continues on the best way to avoid a race to the bottom with regard to the quality of employment. This is especially important in a context such as the one we are currently experiencing, marked by the crisis of the neoliberal model and the consequent restructuring of companies in response to intense competitive pressure.
Some of the questions emanating from this debate are the following: What is the effect from the development of global production chains led by multinational corporations (MNCs) and the various ways of organizing these chains, on the capacity of old and new actors (labor unions and NGOs) to put an end to competitive strategies based on attacking working conditions, and what type of factors has an impact on this result? In what way may the demand for social responsibility on the part of MNCs and their suppliers and contractors, through non-obligatory private protection instruments such as Codes of Conduct, counteract the weakening of state and labor union capacities to protect the quality of employment? Are new public and private efforts being made to compensate for this weakening?
In an attempt to respond to these questions, this chapter seeks to compare the tendencies of restructuring in two activities, specifically the manufacturing industry and the service industry, and especially the tendencies related to the modalities and implications of outsourcing by multinational corporations, and the roles played by the different actors in this process.
This study has been conducted within the framework of the debate generated around the way in which deficits in regulations are compensated for within the domestic sphere of the globalization process and the resulting impacts on employment. Particular focus is given to the criticisms of new governance theories that established the basis for the search for “productivist” and “managerial” solutions, such as the promotion of corporate social responsibility and codes of conduct. In short it is sustained that this proposal is “post-conflict and post-rights, post-state and technocratic,” ignoring the fact that a significant number of the problems involved in the restructuring processes are the result of unequal power relations involving class, gender, ethnicity and other social cleavages that cannot be addressed without the recognition of new rights and the adoption of public policies, together with an efficient state apparatus that demands the fulfillment of such rights and policies (Kolben, 2009).
The restructuring of Mexico’s manufacturing industry has been studied from different angles. In this article we are interested, as already stated, in focusing on the consequences for the quality of employment throughout the productive chains led by MNCs and the power of the actors involved.
In order to compare the effects from the restructuring in the manufacturing and services sectors, we will analyze two business models or investment strategies in Mexico: the maquila model that seeks efficiency in international markets through the exporting of manufactured products, and the model in which national markets are penetrated through service-providing businesses seeking competitiveness in regional or local markets (Mortimore, 2006).
In order to typify the business models and their labor implications, we will use a survey conducted with multinational companies at the end of 2008 and during 2009, specifically with nearly 170 firms in the manufacturing and services sectors. This was a face-to-face survey conducted with the Human Resources Directors at these firms, and was part of the project Firmas multinacionales en México: Un estudio sobre la estructura organizacional, la innovación y las prácticas de empleo (Multinational firms in Mexico: a study on organizational structure, innovation and employment practices), linked to the international network known as INTREPID (Investigation of Transnationals’ Employment Practices: An International Database).
We will analyze occupational structure, subcontracting practices, and the presence of labor union organizations and other mechanisms of representation used by companies. In order to study the scope of the Codes of Conduct implemented, we will look at the results from previous studies we have conducted, and we will review statistical and documentary sources, as well as in-depth interviews with the involved actors, including federal and local governments. To this end, we will use some cases of specific companies as referents.
Kolben, Kevin (2009), Towards an integrative theory of transnational labor regulation, Draft presented at Regulation for Decent Work Conference. Workshop: Regulating work in global production, July, Geneva.
Mortimore, Michael (2006), Transnationalization of Developing America: opportunities and challenges, CEPAL, Santiago, May 8 (documento de trabajo)

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